December 5, 2020

iMonk Classic: The Preeminent Question

Jesus, Doré

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From June 2, 2005

Today’s classic post features some always pertinent, always applicable words of wisdom from Michael Spencer.

While discussing the doctrine of election the other day, I asked BHT fellow Bill a version of the following question: “If you were able to follow Jesus for the three years (or whatever) of his ministry, life, death and resurrection, do you believe you would conclude that Jesus believed the same version of the doctrine of election as you do today?”

That question applies to all of theology. In fact, it is the preeminent question of the Christian Life. I do not say the preeminent question of Christian theology, but of the Christian life, because in the end, theology must lead to the lives that we live. Theology must be a description of REALITY. Of real life. Just as mathematical propositions must eventually let the space shuttle fly or a heart monitor give accurate readings, so our theology must prepare us for death, and for the lives we lead before death. Our theology must make us human beings, husbands, fathers, teachers, neighbors, members of a community, and so on.

Christ Preaching, Rembrandt

For many Christians, this discussion is a discussion of “What does the Bible say?” So, Romans 9 and John 1 are really no different from one another, as both are inspired scripture, and we can discuss election from Romans 9, come to our conclusions and announce that we have the truth.

On the other hand, I believe that the purpose of Romans 9, John 1, Leviticus 18, Ecclesiastes and so on is to allow us to hear God’s Final Word: Jesus. Scripture is the recipe for the cake that God is baking: Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World. Jesus says that what he says, is and does is our window to the the true God, and is our truth for life and death. Therefore, it is Jesus that I am seeking in theology. Jesus is what matters in theology.

The preeminent question in reading Paul is simple: How does Paul introduce me to Jesus? Not “What does Paul teach about election?” The preeminent question in Leviticus and Judges is “How does the law and the history of Israel introduce me to Jesus?” Implicit in this is the great truth of John 1 and Hebrews 1:

John 1:16-18—16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Hebrews 1:1-3—1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

All that God is doing is centered in Jesus, not in Paul’s theology or the Old Testament history.

Jesus Preaching the Gospel, Doré

Colossians 1:12-20—12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Ephesians 1:3-10—3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

The Preeminent Question of Theology- and life- is not “What is Reformed Theology?” It is not “What does Paul teach about election and predestination?” It is not “How can I be right and the other fellow wrong?” The only question that matters is whether we hear, see, know, comprehend and ultimately BELIEVE God’s Final Word, the Mediator of the New Covenant that is ALL he is doing for us in the Gospel.

Does what I believe about election, the Bible, universalism, truth, God and so on, correspond to Jesus? Do I know Jesus? Is my truth, my worldview, my reality, JESUS?

For further reading: Those of you who like this post would probably enjoy reading four previous IM essays, all hopefully helpful on this topic.


  1. Hi,

    Your discussion sounds Barthian to me 🙂 I’m a big admirer of Karl Bart who proposed that the texts on election should have a Christological focus. For Barth, Jesus is both electing and the elect as well as the chosen and the reprobate. This is helpful in getting the focus on Jesus rather than creating anxiety about one’s status in terms of salvation.

    In my view, the Calvinistic and Lutheran (not sure Luther went as far as double predestination) are legitimate interpretaions but not necessarily helpful in practical applications of the subject matter. The genius of Barth is that he gets one to look to Jesus to resolve the tensions inherent in the doctrine.